It’s no secret that elite athletes need to consume quite a bit more food than the average person. Such high levels of training deplete the body’s energy stores, and if they’re not replenished an athlete’s performance will decline. When the Wall Street Journal spoke to Mark Klion, a doctor of sports medicine and orthopedic surgeon at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, about Michael Phelps’ diet, he told them that without such a large amount of sustenance, the 18-time Olympic champion swimmer’s body just wouldn’t be able to recover from the calorie-crushing workouts he performs.
“The muscles will not recover, there will not be adequate energy stored for him to compete in his next event,” Kilon said.
And for an elite athlete, the next event, or the next training workout, is everything. Their world revolves around competition and success relies heavily on eating to meet their body’s extremely demanding needs.
“In your super-high-calorie-burning sports, like distance running, cycling or the triathlon, elite athletes can burn 15 or 20 calories a minute,” Dr. Michael Joyner told The New York Times. Joyner is a researcher at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. and conducts studies of endurance athletes. He noted that at the peak of training, many of these athletes are working out for four or five hours a day.
That’s a lot of calories that need to be accounted for, which is why, as The New York Times pointed out, many athletes end up turning to high-calorie, high-fat foods like pizza, bacon and ice cream—hardly what most would expect a pro- or Olympic-level competitor to chow down on a regular basis. Yet, it seems some, like Phelps, have found a way to make this type of diet work. Still, there are others opting for healthier, leaner food choices, too. From the totally unexpected to the pretty typical healthy eating staples, here’s a look at what some of today’s top athletes are chowing down on while they’re in training.
What He Eats In a Day: A whole wheat bagel or two slices of toast with almond butter and honey; a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread with lettuce and tomatoes, or scrambled eggs or an egg omelet with turkey, ham and vegetables, and an avocado with a side salad; whole wheat pasta with turkey meatballs; blueberries, bananas, apples, pears oranges or peaches and a Protein Plus PowerBar; electrolyte drinks and 60 to 70 ounces of water.
Total Calories Daily: about 3,000
Source: Meb Keflezighi
What She Eats In a Day: According to ESPN, Llyod starts her mornings with a smoothie. She mixes in kale, spinach, avocado, pineapple, kiwi, coconut, water, chia seeds and green grapes. She also makes sure to stay hydrated throughout the day and estimates she drinks about seven to eight bottles of water on a daily basis. The rest of her diet, she said, consists of lots of veggies, salads and fresh fish. Her favorite meal is cod baked with pineapple salsa, a little bit of oil, and salt and pepper.
What He Eats In a Day: 10 ounces of cod, two whole eggs and two cups of oatmeal; eight ounces of cod, 12 ounces of sweet potatoes and one cup of vegetables; eight ounces of chicken, two cups of white rice and one cup of vegetables; eight ounces of cod, two cups of rice, one cup of vegetables and one tablespoon of fish oil; eight ounces of steak, 12 ounces of baked potatoes and a spinach salad; 10 ounces of cod, two cups of rice and a salad; 30 grams of casein protein, 10 egg-white omelet, one cup of vegetables and one tablespoon of omega-3 fish oil.
Total Calories Daily: 5,165
Source: Muscle and Fitness
What He Eats In a Day: Watt opted not to share the exact details of his diet when he spoke with ESPN, but as reporter Tania Ganguli pointed out, to reach his daily intake of about 9,000 calories it would take 50 slices of bacon, 20 chicken breasts and 13 whole avocados. To add more volume to his diet he includes more foods like sweet potatoes, pasta, fish, olive oil and coconut oil, Ganguli reported.
Total Calories Daily: 6,000 to 9,000
What He Eats In a Day: According to The Huffington Post, in his autobiography Bolt admitted to eating nothing but McDonalds Chicken McNuggets for 10 days while in Beijing for the 2008 Olympics. Bolt estimated he ate about 100 McNuggets a day, which rounds out to about 1,000 in total for the entire time he spent in Beijing.
Total Calories Daily: 5,453
Source: Decibel Nutrition
What He Eats In a Day: When we asked Kipsang about his diet, he told us he doesn’t keep super-close tabs on the amount he’s eating but that his main focus is always on Carbohydrates. “I think on a daily basis, when I’m training, I don’t really measure,” he said. “But I can say, maybe 80 percent of the diet is carbohydrates and then 10 percent is protein and 10 percent vitamins. But if you tried to analyze the diet, much of it is carbohydrates.” He also mentioned that when training at home in Kenya ugali—a starchy, polenta-like side dish made of several different flours—is a staple food for him. However, it’s usually not available to him while traveling for races, so instead he’ll opt for pasta. “But if I could get the food that I’m used to—that’s ugali—that would be the best.”
Source: Wilson Kipsang
What He Eats in a Day: A few sips of PowerBar Perform sports drink and two to three cups of water, two cups of black coffee, and two bagels with Justin’s hazelnut spread; 48 ounces of PowerBar Perform sports drink and one or two PowerGels; three cups of water and 16 ounces of chocolate milk or a PowerBar; two cups of water and a rice stirfry dish; two cups of water, 12 ounces of salmon, roasted asparagus with extra virgin olive oil and one cup of brown rice.
Total Calories Daily: 3,100
What He Eats in a Day: Three fried-egg sandwiches with cheese, lettuce tomato fried onions and mayonnaise, two cups of coffee, one five egg omelet, one bowl of grits, three slices of French toast with powdered sugar and three chocolate chip pancakes; one pound of enriched pasta, two large ham and cheese sandwiches with mayo on white bread, energy drink; one pound of pasta, a whole pizza and more energy drinks.
Total Calories Daily: 12,000
Source: Wall Street Journal
What She Eats in a Day: Rousey recently revealed some insight into her training diet when she spoke with ESPN reporter Allison Glock, admitting she keeps her diet pretty on point when she’s training. “Like last night, I got the fried calamari and I took all the bread off before dipping it, and that was my treat,” Rousey told Glock. “And I had one little rip of the cotton candy because I thought maybe gourmet cotton candy would be different. It wasn't. And I ate all the raspberries off the desserts. Everyone else had dessert. I ate the raspberries. And I wouldn't even do that during camp.”
She continued, “Let me show you what my training diet looks like. [Takes out her phone, pulls up a sample menu.] Here we go. 8 a.m.: Two teaspoons oat bran, two teaspoons chia seeds, two teaspoons hemp seeds; 10 a.m.: Train; 11:45: Post-exercise smoothie; 12 p.m.: Farmer's scramble: one whole egg, plus two egg whites, two sides of turkey bacon; 4 p.m.: Snack: one apple, one-fourth cup raw almonds, one-fourth cup raw cashews; 6 p.m.: Train. Post-exercise smoothie, da, da, da. Before bed: Chamomile tea. Everything's got an hour, an amount, everything.”